Health specialists in public health report that immigrant and refugee groups are still disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing elevated rates of infection and mortality. Disparities in health are linked to factors like employment type, status of immigration, and proficiency in English. A collective of Mayo Clinic healthcare professionals and community leaders worked together to devise strategies to mitigate health disparities arising from COVID-19. Their strategy included addressing communication barriers, pinpointing community needs, and enhancing access to essential resources. They anticipate that this method will prove effective in upcoming public health crises and pandemics.
A recently published paper in Public Health Reports elaborates the findings, evaluating the initial nine months of a community-led intervention that reached about 39,000 individuals in immigrant and refugee communities in Southeast Minnesota. The intervention concentrated on bridging communication gaps in COVID-19 prevention and testing, and addressing the pandemic’s social and economic repercussions.
Central to the intervention was the participation of community members who joined forces with healthcare experts to gauge and tackle COVID-19 health issues. They acted as reliable information channels to their communities, and vice versa, to the healthcare professionals.
These results build upon a paper released in May 2020 that outlined the structure of this initiative. Mayo Clinic’s healthcare experts and the community leaders are members of the Rochester Healthy Community Partnership (RHCP), a community-academic research collaboration established in 2004 in Rochester, Minnesota.
Mark Wieland, MD, a Mayo Clinic community internal medicine specialist and the study’s lead author, comments, “Immediate, two-way dialogue between community and academic collaborators enabled us to swiftly address concerns and evolving situations in a manner that was community-priority-driven.”
Community leaders expressed favorable views of the intervention, citing its high effectiveness, durability, and adaptability over time.
Miriam Goodson, a participant in the Alliance of Chicanos, Hispanics, and Latin Americans, and a study co-author, states, “We (the RHCP members) learned to comprehend what mattered to our community, then communicated stories and dispelled misinformation.”
Community leaders also noted that their involvement with the Rochester Healthy Community Partnership enhanced their readiness for future pandemics.
“An extraordinary coalition was formed that has transformed the healthcare perspective of immigrant and refugee groups (in Southeastern Minnesota). With RHCP’s support, we’ll conquer COVID-19 and future pandemics,” says Ahmed Osman, a Somali community representative and manager of the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association’s Employment Services Program, also a co-author of the study.
The study showed that this community-centric approach resulted in effective system and policy changes, advancing health equity for these communities. Concerns voiced by the Rochester Healthy Community Partnership influenced local COVID-19 testing and immunization policies and informed strategies to assist patients with COVID-19 who had limited English skills.
The researchers aim to further investigate the effectiveness of community-academic collaborations in enhancing health equity among immigrant and refugee populations.
“Our experience confirms that these community-involved partnerships are uniquely equipped to respond to pandemics or other major public health emergencies, particularly in populations prone to health disparities,” states Irene Sia, MD, a Mayo Clinic specialist in infectious diseases and the paper’s senior author.